CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston Preview

Texaco Grand Prix Of Houston Herta Looks For A Double Houston, TX (September 30, 1998) -- Now that Team Rahal's Bryan Herta has ended his quest for that elusive first FedEx Championship Series victory, can his second be far ...

Texaco Grand Prix Of Houston

Herta Looks For A Double

Houston, TX (September 30, 1998) -- Now that Team Rahal's Bryan Herta has ended his quest for that elusive first FedEx Championship Series victory, can his second be far behind?

As the series visits a temporary street circuit for Round 17, Sunday's inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston (4 p.m. ET, live, ABC-TV), Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) looks to become the third Champ Car driver in the past two seasons to earn his first two career victories back-to-back. He put himself in that position by winning the Sept. 13 Texaco/Havoline 300 at Laguna Seca Raceway.

Now, Herta attempts to join Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes), who scored his first two wins at Milwaukee and Detroit last year, and Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda), who recorded his first two victories in the events immediately preceding Herta's triumph, at Road America and Vancouver, respectively.

"That's a trend we'd certainly like to continue!" said Herta of the quest for his second consecutive victory. "There's probably a certain amount of confidence from winning that first race that carries over into the next. It certainly doesn't make it any easier, though."

Herta also will be trying to follow the lead of Team Rahal owner/driver Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford), who has compiled an impressive record of success in inaugural CART events. Rahal, a three-time PPG Cup winner (1986, '87, '92) in his final season as a FedEx Championship Series driver, won the first CART events contested at Cleveland (1982), Toronto (1986) and Detroit's Raceway on Belle Isle (1992). Rahal also won the inaugural CART event held at New Hampshire International Speedway in 1992, though that is no longer an active venue in the FedEx Championship Series.

"I must say I was very encouraged by the effort I saw being put into the [Houston] event," said Herta, who was removed from probation by CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach following his victory at Laguna Seca. "There is a really buzz about the race around the city and an obvious commitment to its success. As [primary sponsor] Shell's hometown, we have added incentive to perform well there. We want to give our very best effort."

By finishing fourth or better in Houston, Herta, who has 89 PPG Cup points, would top the 100-point mark for the first time in his five-year career. A victory, meanwhile, would project him into the thick of what has become a six-driver dogfight to finish second behind repeat FedEx Championship Series title winner Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda).

Currently, those six drivers are separated by 30 points, from second-place Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda), with 136 points, to seventh-place Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford), with 106.

Included in the mix are Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford), third with 126 points; Franchitti, who has collected 55 points in the past three events to move into fourth with 122; Moore, fifth with 118; and Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford), sixth with 112.

With 309 total points still available in the final three races of the FedEx Championship Series season, the winner of the $500,000 runner-up prize from the PPG Cup point fund remains in doubt.

Zanardi, however, has assured himself of more than $2 million in earnings for the second consecutive season. Including the $1 million bonus he will receive from PPG for winning his second consecutive championship, Zanardi has earned a total of $2,009,250 this season and his three-year earnings total of $5,513,750 - in only three years of competition - ranks him 13th on CART's career list.

Zanardi established a pair of CART records with his runner-up finish to Herta at Laguna Seca. His 12th podium finish of the season broke a record jointly held by Michael Andretti and Rahal, both in 1991 and Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) in 1994. Additionally Zanardi set a new standard for PPG Cup points after 16 events, 234, breaking Unser Jr.'s '94 record of 225. He needs one point this weekend to break Andretti's 17-event record of 234 points set in '91.

Unser Jr. seems to have found the secret of making the new Penske chassis respond on road or street courses. He owns top six finishes in three of the past four events, including fifth at Vancouver and sixths at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca. Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) has been somewhat overshadowed by Team KOOL Green teammate Franchitti, but has scored PPG Cup points in five consecutive events, dating to the U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota.

Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda) has scored one of his podium finishes this season on a temporary street course, third at Detroit. Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford) has recorded top-10 finishes in two of the past three events, topped by a season-best third at Road America.

Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) has scored his two best finishes of the season in the past four events, fourth on the permanent road course at Mid-Ohio and sixth on the temporary street circuit at Vancouver. PacWest Racing Group teammate Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) has scored PPG Cup points in three of five starts this season on temporary street circuits.

Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota) has put together his most sustained streak of success in three seasons in the FedEx Championship Series, having scored PPG Cup points in six of the past eight events. Teammate Robby Gordon (Panasonic/Duskin/MCI Reynard Toyota) owns top-13 finishes in four of his past six starts.

Richie Hearn (Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford) finished 11th at Laguna Seca, the seventh time this season he has collected PPG Cup points. Andre Ribeiro (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) finished a season-best seventh at Vancouver, the most recent FedEx Championship Series event contested on a temporary street circuit.

Rookie Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda) comes off a career-best third place effort at Laguna Seca which gave him a commanding 72-33 points lead over fellow rookie Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award. Meanwhile, fellow rookies JJ Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Reynard Mercedes) and Alex Barron (Castrol-Degree Eagle Toyota) look to build on the success they enjoyed on the streets of Vancouver. Lehto finished a career-best eighth and Barron led 12 laps, the first time a Toyota-powered car had been on the lead in three years of FedEx Championship Series competition.

Third-year driver Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez/Viva Mexico! Reynard Ford) also reached a milestone at Vancouver with a career-best finish of 10th. Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) seeks to shake the run of bad luck which has forced his exit from the past three events due to contact.

Arnd Meier (Hasseroder/J.A.G. Lola Ford) qualified 20th at Vancouver, a career-best on a road or street course. Vincenzo Sospiri (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) makes his second career FedEx Championship Series start, after finishing 23rd at Laguna Seca.

Dennis Vitolo (SmithKline Beecham Reynard Ford) finished 17th at Vancouver, a season-high in nine starts.

Qualifying for the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston will air 4 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, one half-hour prior to ABC's live race broadcast. The Texaco Grand Prix of Houston will be broadcast live on the CART Radio Network, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.

Following the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, the FedEx Championship Series travels to Australia's Gold Coast for the Honda Indy, Sunday, Oct. 18.

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach Sr. , Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Bryan Herta , Scott Pruett , Mark Blundell , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Vincenzo Sospiri , Greg Moore , Michel Jourdain